Happiness Essay #2

This is an essay that I wrote in WR 121 during the Fall term 2012 at Lane Community College.  It is on happiness and is in conversation with a book and a magazine article.

Here is a link to Steven Reiss’s article, “Secrets of Happiness.”


The book is Dan O’Brein’s book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch.

Happiness in Wide Open Spaces

            In his article, “Secrets of Happiness”, Steven Reiss writes that true happiness comes from living by one’s values rather than the pleasures that we may associate with it.  He calls this value-based happiness, and he defines it as a spiritual satisfaction and a feeling of a larger purpose or meaning in life.  He says that while some people are pleasure seekers in search of instant gratification, they will never be truly happy unless they live life by what they value.  He feels that this is the only way one can achieve true happiness.

Dan O’Brien shows throughout his book, “Buffalo for a Broken Heart”, that he too thinks that living life by his values will ultimately, in the end, make him happy.  He shows that his deepest values come from hard work and from living life off the land.  He also values keeping his land in good health so that it provides for all plant and animal species.  While Steven Reiss and Dan O’Brien both believe that true happiness comes from living life by one’s values, O’Brien shows throughout his book and his life that this happiness does not always come easy.

From early in his life O’Brien knows that he wants to live on the Great Plains at the edge of the Black Hills.  After visiting South Dakota with his family as a child, and getting his first glimpse of the Great Plains, he dreams of one day returning.  His romantic childhood dreams of cowboys, horses, and sunsets are what set the direction for the rest of his life (6).

This vision sets the stage for the rest of O’Brien’s life, and he shows from early on that being a cattle rancher is a tough business.  It ruins his marriage, and leaves him struggling to pay the bills.  Even so, through all these rough times he sticks with his passion because he knows in his heart that living a rancher’s life on the Great Plains is what will make him happy.

O’Brien’s first job in South Dakota was for the state’s Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.  Being a wildlife guy, he knows that all plant and animal species of the Great Plains ecosystem depend on the health of the grass.  He envisions transforming the ranch from overgrazed pastures into something like it used to be before the negative influence of humans and their cattle (8-9).

O’Brien divides his land up into nine different pastures so that he can rotate his cattle to prevent overgrazing, and he attempts to restore some of the plant and animal species native to the area.  After the cattle prices crashed, he was forced into the city to work and to make money so that he could afford to pay the mortgage on his ranch.  He moves back as soon as he could afford to, now more careful with his money, because he does not want to be forced off his ranch again (8-13).

For twenty years O’Brien struggles with being a cattle rancher and trying to make ends meet and pay his mortgage.  He struggles with trying to turn his land’s ecosystem back to its original state.  This draws a lot of negative views from his neighbors who think that the land is meant to be abused by them and their cattle.  Some of them even thought that he might be a Russian spy watching the missile bases around the area. All of this because of his different approach of managing his land to the benefit of nature (115-116).

After all of his effort and sacrifices to try and make his living raising cattle, while keeping his land’s plants and animals in harmony with one another, he realizes that the problem may be the cattle themselves.  He realizes that maybe he was using the wrong tool to get the job done.  He then starts thinking of buffalo (19-20).

He had thought of venturing into the buffalo business, and his friend Duane that manages the 777 Ranch even tries to persuade him to do so, but it was really only by chance that he stumbled into the business. Only after he helps out on a buffalo roundup and decides to buy 13 runt baby buffalo does he start to see what he has been missing.

As he raises the Gas House Gang O’Brien starts to make other buffalo purchases and dives head first into the buffalo industry.  He does a full conversion from cattle to buffalo and as he does he starts to see what he had been missing all along.  The land of the Great Plains is meant for buffalo and this allows for the plant and animal species to flourish.

O’Brien’s struggles over the past twenty years of cattle ranching came from him trying to live his life by his values and desires; however, they also came by him trying to bend the natural process and way of nature to meet his needs.  Had he instead realized that he needed to bend himself and his needs around nature he could have eliminated years of stress, money problems, and heartache.

O’Brien knew from the start that the cattle were the problem.  He knew that buffalo were better for the land, but he was worried that if he tried the conversion to buffalo the market for them would crash, and he would once again have to leave the land he loved to go work in the city (102-103).

O’Brien had many struggles in his first twenty years as a rancher as he tried to live his life by his values, but he does in the end find what he was always seeking.  It just took a little nudge from his friends and perhaps a little fate for him to discover the true happiness in the wide open space of the Great Plains.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Dan. Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002. Print.

Reiss, Steven. “Secrets of Happiness.” Psychology Today Jan.-Feb. 2001: n. pag. SIRS Knowledge Source. Web. 27 Sept. 2011.


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